PHOTOS: Always a puppy

Memories will follow me everywhere.

I’m comforted knowing Riley had an amazing life, and he made mine infinitely better. My life will always be better for his place in it. We were explorers together, and his adventurous spirit, playfulness and unique personality filled my life with meaning, balance and love.

He was always a puppy. Nearly eight years of a well-lived life, he was a puppy to the end. Entertaining, friendly, intelligent. But always playful.

The final days, thought out in some fashion so long ago, were kind to us. It gave two runners – a furry friend and his owner – a chance to cherish the bond forged over miles, cheeseburgers and lake time. Those old memories and an opportunity to provide a dignified, peaceful ending to an amazing life will warm my heart.

Over the past few months, as the reality settled in, I’ve shed many tears. But I’m also grateful the waning days for my charming golden retriever allowed him to enjoy a bit of what made his life special.

A special visit from our running pal gave his tail a chance to wag wildly again.

My brother, who dubbed Riley as the Red Dragon, visited and again brought back that instant explosion of energy that Riley was so trademark for. Once something excited him, Riley would scramble to his feet and burst with life.

We made a drive to Lake Melissa to visit his dog-sitting parents, who were gracious to allow us to make arrangements without much notice so he could spend a little bit of time in the lake. He also spend a night at my brother’s house, where Riley lived nearly 6 years. If there’s a place he would call home, it is there.

The news Monday brought the tremendous cost – emotionally, mentally and physically and financially – to fight cancer. Normally, Riley didn’t like being out in the rain. But that evening we went for a walk around the block in a light shower and he didn’t put up a fuss. He accompanied me to work during a late night trip.

And then there was Tuesday, Aug. 27. A day of sadness and joy.

We awoke early and went for a walk. Like many nights recently, I slept on the floor next to him, just in case. Our walk drained him of some energy, and Riley moved more slowly than before, but it was only fitting that we took a new route. He was an explorer. We shared an adventurous bond. This last walk, short but sweet, was a matter of principle. Finish the way we started together.

At home, Riley laid down on the dewey grass, the early morning light beginning to lift above the trees.

As I had so many times, I watched him as he surveyed the surroundings. And I wondered what was going through his mind.

On this last day, my hope was that he enjoyed this life, every step of the journey.

Hours after that final morning, I drove Riley to Dairy Queen. I ordered a cheeseburger meal and a caramel sundae. Slowly, I tore the cheeseburger into bite-sized pieces, and fed it to him. And then the ice cream. Just like our trips during summers to Leech Lake, where we ran and swam and played together on the weekends. A few minutes later we made a stop at the veterinarian’s office, where Riley would peacefully go to sleep for the final time.

Stung by the sadness of a beloved pet gone too early, there is a void and emptiness. Buoyed by the joy of an amazing life, lived to the fullest, I’m strengthened by the thoughts we shared a bond, forged forever, without regrets or reservations.

To me, Riley will always be a puppy.

39 thoughts on “PHOTOS: Always a puppy

  1. Great reflection and touching memorial… Dogs are man’s (and humans) best friends and I know my life is SO MUCH richer because of my Border Collie Moses. He, like Reilly , loves to run and every lake, pond, creek or mud puddle he thinks is a potential bath. Thank you for sharing your story of love with us!

  2. Hi Steve, I’ve followed along with your journey about Riley . . .waiting for . . the day. Please know that I am sharing your sadness as are others who aren’t writing. Our beautiful pets affect us so. I couldn’t have been more surprised myself when I was the one who was truly weeping with my entire body in the vet’s office as I had never done before, ever in my life when I was with our Sweet Moo, as we put her to sleep. I whispered into her ear, “I Love You. I’ll see you in Heaven.”. I snuggled her and petted her the entire time. That’s when I really started to cry, bending over, putting my hands on my knees and sobbing like I have never sobbed before or since. I gave them my credit card and walked out of there with an empty cage. She had tumors. I believe I will see her again in Heaven. Your story has reminded me of her. Tears.

    Tears also for Riley and you.

  3. ((Steve))

    I am so sorry this had to happen to the both of you. I understand the sorrow, loss of ones “best” friend” they truely become such a big part of ones life, always there, love unconditionally and a ” family member” I know how much you really loved him. I know its hard , the hurt will some day ease. The Memories and the Love will carry on my friend .Praying for you.
    Big Hugs Steve!
    Deb

  4. Our golden is also eight. Our first one developed cancer and it was very difficult watching the vet lead him away. I can still see him go – and he loved our vet. As a runner and golden owner I have appreciated your writings.

    • Mike,
      Thank you for taking a moment to share your story and write me a note. It’s difficult to accept, but I’m comforted and strengthened by others’ thoughtfulness and storytelling. Best wishes,
      Steve

  5. Never met Riley but seeing your photos and having a golden of my own, I can truly understand your pain. I too, dread the day of having to say goodbye to my best friend and companion.
    They are the creatures who are so happy every time we walk in the door or say those special words like ‘go’, ‘ball’, ‘ride’!
    I believe Riley had the best life possible with you and sounds like he made your life that much better too! You had the devotion and unconditional love that only a pet owner can know. I truly hope you find that again one day. Please know that so many of us share in your grief as we too can understand that pain…

    • Julie,
      I appreciate your note and kind thoughts. I am sure your golden brings as much joy as Riley did to me, and I look forward to the day when I can welcome another home. Thank you,

      Steve

    • May the days ahead bring you sunshine and happiness, for I know first hand these are dark and rainy times. Our Chocolate Lab of eight years passed in similar fashion a few years ago. You eloquently put into words your feelings and thoughts about your relationship with Riley. Only true, “dog people” understand the connection we can have with our pets. May you find the courage to do what a wise nurse told us when we lost Hershey… She said, “find it in you heart to search for another dog soon, for your love and energy can be spent fulfilling the dream of a puppy that is waiting for its owner.” It took about three months before we found Georgia, or should I say, she found us. You know what, that nurse was right. Wishing you clear skies and tailwinds…

      Kyle

  6. Riley was lucky to have had you – I’m sure he’s telling other dogs right now about the wonder of cheeseburgers! Not all dogs are so lucky.

  7. so sorry I lost my husky on valentines day after 12 years his hips gave out its like losing part of your family its so hard sending my best to you he looked like a great dog

  8. Awful sorry to hear about “Riley”, they do become part of your family and will always be dearly missed! At least you have wonderful memories of your time spent together!
    Mary

  9. I always enjoyed your stories about Riley and while I am saddened to hear of your loss I am also thankful that you had the chance to experience so many pleasurable times with your four-legged friend. Riley will be missed but you gave him your love and in return he gave you a lifetime of stories and unconditional devotion. You were a great pair.

  10. I am so sorry for your loss. I loved reading about Riley and was really hoping for him to rebound. I’m so saddened by this post but at the same time I’m happy that you got to say a long goodbye and give him the things he loved to the end. These sweet souls are always taken away from us so soon, no matter if they live to a ripe old age. It’s always too soon. My shepherd was barely 10 almost two years ago when we lost him to hemangio so I am unfortunately intimately familiar with the feelings you’re going through right now. RIP Riley.

    • Thanks for the kind note, and my condolences on your loss … it obviously still hurts. We have a common experience and it helps to hear from others who’ve been through a similar experience. Take care.
      Steve

  11. Beautiful tribute to Riley. You will always have the memories and pictures. We put CJ down a few years ago and it was hard. The kids still miss her and talk about her often. They are gone…but NEVER forgotten! Take care.

  12. Steve,
    I am so sorry for your loss. It’s really difficult to say goodbye to such a loyal friend.
    May your memories of Riley bring you comfort.
    Sue

  13. So sorry to hear of Riley’s passing. My 12-year-old golden boy lies next to me as I write this. My heart dreads the day I have to face his loss. I’m sure Riley would thank you, if he could, for loving him so much and giving him such a good life. They love us more than we’ll ever understand. Blessings to you and Riley.

  14. Beautiful Steve. Thoughts are with you as mourn the loss of your beloved friend and relish in the amazing memories no one can take away.

  15. God Bless you and your sweet boy. Goldens are the best breed ever. I have one left, lost the other 3 to cancer. I lost my sweet boy Louie, 3 months ago to hermangio, he was only 8. I lost my Tucker at 13 and Rosie at 5.
    With Louie there were no symptoms, sick one day and gone the next. I feel your sadness. Hopefully someday your heart will heal a bit and you can get another sweet golden. Again bless you.
    Jaci

    • Jaci,
      Your note means a lot to me and I understand your love for goldens. They are a special breed and I will pause to smile each time I see one. There can be a special bond between people and their pets, and I hope to one day that I’ll be able to find another golden to bond with. Thank you.
      Steve

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